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Tourists look at downtown Rome where a prediction that a huge earthquake would destroy city on Wednesday prompted fear in some and giggles of ridicule in others as officials reassured the the public. (Alessandro Bianchi/Reuters)

More than 22 earthquakes struck Italy by noon on Wednesday, as is normal for the quake-prone country but none was the devastating temblor purportedly predicted by a now-dead scientist to strike Rome.

Despite efforts by seismologists to debunk the myth of a major Roman quake on May 11, 2011 and stress that quakes can never be predicted, some Romans left town just in case, spurred by rumour-fueled fears that ignore science.

Many storefronts were shuttered, for example, in a neighbourhood of Chinese-owned shops near Rome's central train station. And an agriculture farm lobby group said a survey of farm-hotels outside the capital indicated some superstitious Romans had headed to the countryside for the day.

The fears are all thanks to a purported prediction of a major Roman quake Wednesday attributed to self-taught seismologist Raffaele Bendandi, who died in 1979. However, Paola Lagorio, president of the association in charge of Bendandi's documentation, says there's no evidence Bendandi ever made such a precise prediction.

Adam Burgess, a senior lecturer in sociology at the University of Kent said rumours like these tend to occur in "information vacuums," such as during war when there are situations of uncertainty. In this case, he suggested, the viral rumour-mongering about a Roman quake may reflect a lack of trust Italians feel toward their government.

Italian officials have taken extraordinary measures to try to calm nerves and debunk the myth.

The country's Civil Protection department posted a dense information packet on its website stressing that quakes can't be predicted and that Rome isn't particularly at risk. Toll-free numbers were set aside at city hall to field questions.

And the national geophysics institute opened its doors to the public to inform the curious and the concerned about seismology.